In The Fishbowl

In the midst of working on my tech project for my final COETAIL course 5 presentation, I realized that utilizing the fishbowl discussion strategy for our english unit would be ideal. Currently, my English Skills 12 class, who on a side note is full of students with extreme “senioritus”, is studying a unit on personal memoirs. Alongside working on a joint definition of what a memoir is on a classroom Google document, they were assigned examples of various memoirs to read. I chose a couple of chapters written in memoir fashion by David Sedaris in Dress my Family in Corduroy and Denim, as well as a chapter from Rhoda Janzen and her memoirs titled Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. I figured an interesting way to have classroom discussions about the readings which would integrate technology within the classroom to a whole new level, would be with the fishbowl technique.

I first discovered the fishbowl technique in one of our COETAIL classes, where Jeff Utech had us participate both in and out of the fishbowl to discuss a reading. If you haven’t heard of the fishbowl technique basically it is a method of turning your classroom into a technological fishbowl of sorts. The students are split into two groups, where half are “in” the fishbowl, and the other half are “outside” the fishbowl. You arrange a central table or circle of chairs that are inside, and the other students sit around them on the outside. Inside the fishbowl is a facilitator, and the others are participants in the discussion. I actually chose to have 2 student facilitators because I feel like it is a bit harder for some teenagers, in comparison to adults, to keep a literary discussion rolling (especially for students with special needs). The students outside the fishbowl, those looking in, are also split into different roles. I had 2 students taking notes of what the discussion in the middle was about on a Google document, and the others were commenters. The folks whose role was to comment, basically had their own conversation via the commenting feature on the side of the same Google document which related to the inside main discussion. We had a total of 4 fishbowl discussions within my English Skills 12 class over the past month and a half, where all of the students had an opportunity to be in each of the four roles: facilitator, participant, note-taker, and commenter. Before the actual fishbowl discussions I had the students write down a couple of discussion questions, and these were used as a reference point for the facilitators in case they needed them. many times they did and directly worked from these questions which were the classes questions. After completing a fishbowl discussion I asked every student to reflect on how they believed it went, as well as what they personally liked and disliked about their role. I learned quite a bit.

Basically the following explanations are the main points I got out of having my students participate in fishbowl discussions. Some are obviously captain obvious points, while other may spark some further thought. Here it goes…

  1. It is difficult to have a discussion when some of the students have not done the reading, or do not fully understand it. This is obviously because fishbowl discussions require full participation to really keep the discussions going.
  2. If the students really liked the reading and were interested in the conversation, obviously the discussion was more relevant and meaningful for each student.
  3. The students really struggled the first time with understanding why the roles were the way they were, and some felt very limited by their role and thus downright did not like the process.
  4. If a student had a role that matched their personality they really enjoyed the activity and were much more likely to participate to a greater degree.
  5. If a student had a role that they found challenging due to their personality, they struggled and found the activity uncomfortable.
  6. Almost every student enjoyed the commenting role, most likely because they are so used to chatting all of the time with their friends and it is similar to texting.
  7. The students first found it really weird and almost difficult that I was not inside the fishbowl helping them discuss the topic and keeping the discussion alive. Later, I believe that they enjoyed being able to have a discussion where they knew it was on their terms and I wouldn’t interject.
  8. After a couple of fishbowl discussions,  the students were more engaged overall in the discussion because they knew what their role was, and what was expected of them.
  9. The students that I worked with, and had participate in the fishbowl discussions had never done any activity like this before where they were expected to utilize technology and “chat” with each other in the classroom.

The fourth and final fishbowl discussion we completed last week was more or less completely student run. I limited the topic to simply memoirs and your high school experience and let them see where it went. It was one of the most meaningful discussions I have ever heard out of students over my 6 years of teaching. Students were opening up and honestly sharing about both the positive and the painful experiences they have had throughout high school. Students were incredibly sincere about expressing their emotions related to their readiness for university. It was melancholy. It was nostalgic. It was inspiring. It was REAL.

I would definitely recommend the fishbowl activity to teachers as a tool to utilize with students for classroom discussions. Although there is a learning curve as far as learning the roles and expectations, I believe that you will be amazed what kind of self-reflection occurs. Students were very frank about what roles they enjoyed and despised, and honestly I think it was good for them. The fishbowl is one of those activities that can force students out of their comfort zone and push them to improve communication, collaboration, and introspection skills. So jump in, the water’s fine.


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COETAIL Final Project

For my COETAIL final project, I chose my English Skills 12 class. This is a very diverse group of seniors who are in a Special Education English class to improve, well, their english skills. The majority of them have a bad case of senioritus going on, and they have really been tuning out to wanting to learn more grammar and vocabulary. We just finished a large culminating unit on college, which included: interviews, common applications, and college essays. What I want to focus on now with them as their high school career is winding down, is a reflection on their high school experience in the form of a personal memoir.  I want to do this by incorporating various amounts of the tech skills that I have gained from our COETAIL course. Students will have 2 large final products due. One will be a 1500 word personal memoir that will be posted on their blog. The other is a small group project that has to involve technology (of their choice) that effectively communicates their personal growth throughout their high school years. Here is the UbD project template.

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Don’t Blame the Tool!


The other day my husband and I were talking, and he mentioned that he thought that we may see an actual decrease of laptops in the classroom within the next 50 years or so. Of course I thought he was certainly way off the mark, seeing how the current trend is to actually go towards a one-to-one school, but I was curious where he was going with this. He explained that he thinks schools and institutions will eventually ban tech from the classrooms because folks won’t know how to manage their use effectively. He does seem to have a point. I don’t think anything that bold will be implemented, but there does seem to be a lack of effective management strategies utilized.

I work in a one-to-one school, and as a Learning Support teacher I am constantly in other teachers’ classes supporting students with special needs. It is amazing how different teachers approach laptop usage within their classes, and how many simply don’t. As I walk around the classrooms helping various students with their work, I frequently notice students on their laptops not doing what is asked of them. Many students are Skyping or instant messaging their friends. Some are actually playing games, and the majority that are off-task are simply surfing the web for whatever it is in on their minds at the time. Unfortunately, this is not typically the classroom topic. I believe that laptops and tablets definitely have a place in the classroom, but saying this again, they should be put in their place in the classroom. That means there should be classroom expectations regarding how to use them. I know that at my school it is up to the individual teacher to set expectations and manage behavior in the classroom, as it is in most schools, but teachers today did not grow up with laptops. This is all new to them, and it is a bit threatening to have to compete with a machine that can provide constant distraction to the students (both positive and negative distractions). I say this because sometimes students are enhancing their understanding of a classroom topic while discussion is taking place. The problem is that if a teacher is disseminating important information and the student is not actively listening, they are losing out on this knowledge. 

So, what do we do about this? I know there is a spectrum of comfortability with tech in the classroom for teachers, but there should be some overarching guidelines that all teachers should follow. I found Dean Groom’s post on 23 Things about Classroom Laptops to stimulate overall awareness of how laptops have impacted the classroom environment as well as what teachers should watch for. I also appreciated Jim Heyenderickx post on Student Laptops and Classroom Management because he provides an excellent and straight forward set of guidelines for laptop usage within the classroom. A couple of ideas that I think teachers need to remember when managing laptop usage in the classroom are:

  1. You are in control and responsible for managing classroom behavior. You have a set of skills to manage classroom behavior that you have been using for years as an educator. The principles are the exact same. It is ok to not have the students get on their laptops first thing in the class or to have to wait to be asked to take them out. It is ok to ask them to close their laptops when you are explaining new material. Put the laptop usage in its place in your classroom and create the environment you want in your classroom.
  2. Remember effective teaching strategies. Students are more likely to be distracted if they are bored and not engaged in the classroom content. Utilize tech tools in the classroom to have students collaborate with the material (like creating a Google Document) and/or test their recent understanding with a Curriculum Based Assessment in the form of a game on Quizlet.
  3. Don’t be a bump on a log. Make sure you are moving around the classroom and checking on progress. This is one of the simplest things teachers can do that many don’t. Don’t be lazy. Students enjoy knowing that you are taking an interest in what they are doing and at the same time you are managing behavior. If a student knows you are circulating the classroom to see what they have done, they won’t be on the internet doing something else.
  4. Explicitly teach tech tools. If you are going to utilize technology in the classroom, then it is important that your students understand how to use it, and use it well.  If you want students to research a topic, then first explicitly teach them how to do a proper Google search to find meaningly and reliable results.

I truly believe that if teachers simply reminded themselves of these 4 things, then not only would they be less likely to feel overwhelmed with technology in the classroom, but classroom distractions with technology would decrease.  If someone harms another individual with a weapon such as a knife, you don’t blame the knife but the individual. The knife is simply a tool. The laptop is simply a tool as well, just as a pencil is a tool. We may need to remind ourselves of this occasionally. It is unjust to blame the tool and want to take laptops out of the classroom, but it is important, actually necessary that we as educators teach students how to use this tool properly.

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Constructing a New Age of Teaching

The dawn of a new era in the classroom is here. The world is more connected now than it ever has been before. So why hasn’t the educational system kept pace and changed alongside?

As a United States citizen, it is well known that college tuition is downright unaffordable for the majority of the population. I was flipping through a college information booklet the other day and on average tuition to a standard (not a top) university was approximately 35-40 thousand dollars A YEAR.  Even with financial aid and scholarships, I would imagine many graduates are facing between 50-100 thousand dollars in student loans to begin paying back. Not only that, but a college undergraduate degree definitely does not guarantee you anything anymore. There isn’t necessarily a job awaiting you simply because you have that certificate. I know that post-secondary education altogether is another issue, but if students after high school AND even after college aren’t prepared for the changes in the world today, what are we doing wrong as educators?

So what are these changes in the world today? This is of course a complex question, and one that cannot be answered simply. As an educator, one of the predominant shifts I have noticed over the course of my lifetime is the influx of information, especially the ability to access information by way of new technology. I would not hesitate to say that learning itself has changed due to the rise in technology today. The problem is that our educational constructs have not changed accordingly to incorporate this notion. Instead of speculating why this hasn’t happened, which I believe in some regards isn’t entirely beneficial, I believe that we should rather look forward and determine what we can do to change this.

It is apparent that knowledge and access to information is growing exponentially. According to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD), “the amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years, and is now doubling every 18 months.” This is huge! The ASTD continues to explain that “to combat the shrinking half-life of knowledge, organizations have been forced to develop new methods of deploying instruction.” This is exactly what schools should be doing. It is no longer practical to focus on teaching merely content to students. Anyone with access to the internet can find answers to content questions. Instead, educators should be concentrating on how best to teach students to search for and find information, and then decipher what information is quality information. I believe that George Siemens said it best in his article on Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age with when explaining significant trends in learning. He stated that “know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where.” I would take this a step further and add “know-why this” or better stated, “why know this?” The world is continually changing, and in turbulent times students who understand the significance of information and can effectively place this information into a global context, will be better prepared.

Throughout my journey in the COETAIL class, I have been exposed to a variety of new ideas, classroom tech tools, as well as strategies. I guess what I have started to synthesize is that maybe as educators, we should simulate the challenges of the “real world” to that of the classroom. Students should become more and more responsible for their own learning and become more adept at independently finding and applying information. I also like the notion that it should be challenging. That means that students shouldn’t always succeed at a task given. Possibly the learning process could be of more importance that the actual end product. This in itself is a more modern approach to education today. Another modern approach to education is the idea of connectivism. This learning theory is best described by George Siemens as:

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements- not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”

I believe that this last bit is incredibly relevant to today. If information is changing at such a rapid rate, and access to information is a non-issue, then the ability to find specialized information is what is significant. If individuals are able to find pertinent, specialized information best through their connections (which by the way may not necessarily be a teacher), then the ability to best connect in a digital age is what should be taught. Social networking is everywhere. 250 million people use Facebook. 27 million people in the US alone use Twitter. Networking for employment has also increased. 34 million people visit LinkedIn. Again, the world is increasingly becoming more and more connected, and at an exponential rate. The way we prepare students for these continual changes should reflect the world outside of the classroom. It is no wonder that teachers all over the world are becoming more and more connected themselves (through blogging, Tweets, professional learning networks online), but also within the classroom.

My husband, who is studying international development has been reading the book, The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. He is thoroughly enjoying it, but knowing that I am part of this COETAIl course, he shared with me an entry that describes in detail what some teachers are doing through the Flat Classroom Project. Basically it describes two teachers, one at an international school in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the other at a school in Georgia, USA who decided to show what happens when the world is flat and collaboration can take place thousands of miles apart. Students from these schools were given the task to create a Wiki page together, focusing on one of the flatteners from the World is Flat book. After 6 weeks and usage from a plethera of tech tools (RSS feeds, VoIP, Skype, IM chat, MySpace, Evoca, YouTube, Google Video, Dropload, and others) it was completed, and apparently it went pretty well. After reflection from the teachers involved (Julie Lindsay and Vickie Davis),  here are some of the thoughts they wanted to share:

“This project also created friendships across the world and promoted a cultural understanding that is needed in our world today. We may be from opposite sides of the world, but our students became one class tethered by invisible strings and bytes.”

” Students are hungering for meaningful connections with one another…This ability to connect has largely been ignored and blocked by many in the educational community who would rather maintain an entrenched style of a classroom that has been around for over a hundred of years.”

According to these teachers on the forefront of constructing a new age of teaching, a more meaningful age, students are asking for these connections. So, let’s give it to them. Let’s provide them with the tech skills, the social skills, the collaborative skills along with the same ole’ content. The world is flat, and so should the classroom. This is in part what Connectivism is all about. As Lindsay and Davis said it best about what is taking place in the world, but always in the classrooms, “We’ve connected the technology; now it’s time to connect the people.”


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To flip or not to flip….does reverse instruction work?

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I have to admit that I was sold on the idea at first explanation. I even wondered why nobody had thought of this concept before? It is so simple. Instead of lecturing during class time and assigning complicated homework that students struggle completing on their own, have the students listen to the lecture (in the form of a homemade video) at night and come ready to partake in discussion/activity/challenging problems on the information when they arrive to class. This notion is known as the flipped classroom or better known as reverse instruction. The idea started with two teachers (Johnathan Bergman and Aaron Sams) in the tiny town of Woodland Park, Colorado. It began unexpectantly, as with many great things, with a teacher simply starting to video his lectures through the use of new technology (Vodcasting) in order for students who miss class to watch and keep up with the work on their own. Word got around, and more and more students began asking for the videos for enhanced explanation of a newly introduced concept. And voila, there you have the flipped classroom. For a more in-depth visual explanation of the flipped classroom, check out the  flipped classroom infographic. Johnathan Bergman also has his own blog with up to date information on how to flip a classroom for those interested.

Even after further research into the idea, I couldn’t see why everyone wasn’t introducing this model right away. There were soo many positive outcomes to this:

  • Less class time spent on initial “yack time” by the teacher
  • Ability to begin class delving into application of concepts and not introduction of concepts
  • Ability to spend more time with those students in class who struggle

As a Special Education teacher the idea of reverse instruction just made sense. Who wouldn’t want to set up more class time for creative exploration of an idea, possibly allowing for more inquiry based instruction, or allow students more cooperative learning time? As for the concept of providing the content teacher with more time to differentiate and help those who need it, that is basically what I advocate for daily. When I took a look at the article from the Daily Riff “The Flipped Class: What it is and What it is not” all of the benefits easily seemed to outweigh the shortcomings, and it was clearly identified what is and was is not reverse instruction. It seems as though many teachers are afraid that videos will replace teachers. That is not what reverse instruction is about. In fact, the overarching majority of testimonials of those who have indeed “flipped the classroom” have been positive, as shared by those on the Flipped Network. There is even a pile of research on the Flipped Learning Blog that has been done, supporting the practice. So why do I still feel hesitant? Not resistant mind you, but hesitant.


Part of the reason I want to awkwardly shy away from flipping my own class is for selfish reasons, and I openly admit this. I believe that it will take quite a bit of time creating Vodcasts of my “lectures”. Also, honestly I just shy away from the camera and feel that videos or recordings of myself to be abhorrent. I am not a bad teacher and my students do learn and are actively engaged. I just don’t like the limelight (or listening to my slightly valley girl voice intonations). I do of course realize that it is not about me, but what is best for the students, but this is where my issue stems from. I am all about the flipped classroom concept. It is simplistic and beautiful. But I think we are forgetting some fundamental basics about what good teaching is all about. Honestly, any teacher that gets up at the front of the classroom and lectures for more than 10 minutes at a time (or even worse most of the block), and then straight away asks students to answer questions or solve problems, isn’t necessarily following best practice. These are not effective teaching strategies. Effective teachers are those who engage the learners AND are able to incorporate new content and new academic terms without lecturing in front of the class. I think what the flipped classroom has done has simply supported what best practice teaching should be all about anyways.

I imagine that many of my SPED students may watch an online 10 minute vodcast of new material and still have nearly no retention or solid understanding of what it was about the next day in class. What the flipped classroom has done has either prefaced new content with the basics, or supported content with additional knowledge. There are many ways of doing this. As a Special Education teacher, it is crucial that instruction be differentiated and given in multiple modalities to support a wide array of learning styles ( and multiple intelligences). The visual and perhaps auditory learners may do very well with watching a video the night before, and then ideally the kinesthetic learner can then “do” an activity in class the following day that relates. I believe that the flipped classroom is a good model, hell even a great model, but let’s not get stuck in any one model. Yes, the old “sage on stage” model should be obsolete, but I hesitate to think that every student will now go home and watch their teachers lecturing at home, to come back to class and do the same ole’ thing. Flipping it any direction isn’t necessarily the answer, the answer is in improved instruction techniques all around, and I do sincerely believe that both Johnathan Bergman and Aaron Sams understand this.

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Freedom with technology: to be, or not to be

The world is becoming increasingly connected due to the many technological advances out there, specifically in the ways in which we use them. Social networking is on the rise, and people are sharing like never before. As a child, I was always reminded how important a concept it was to “learn to share”. Globally, we have made our parents proud! So what is the problem?

The current debate stems from the notion of what we should, and are lawfully able to share. People are now able to share music files, videos, and written work simply with a click of a button (or a mouse). But is it theirs to share? I completely support the freedom of expression and believe whole-heartedly in unlimited access to information, but I am still not sure where I stand on this debate. Recently, Copyright law infringements has been all over the media with the introduced bill in the United States called SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act. The general mission of SOPA was in the name, to limit the trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property and enforce sentences for those streaming and counterfeiting goods. Overall, this is a good notion. Artists and innovators who have produced original work should be credited for their efforts. I don’t think many people would argue with this.

Unfortunately, the way in which SOPA would be regulated proved controversial. Many people believe SOPA could threaten free speech, and that individuals could be prosecuted because of others’ infringed content on a single blog post. Access to entire domains on the internet could also be impacted, and this could possibly bring about imposed censorship on the web. Nothing like big brother looking over your shoulder as you write your blog. So, in response, on January 18th this year many websites (both large and small) organized a “black out”on their sites to raise awareness and protest SOPA. The largest site to “black out” was English Wikipedia, which an estimated 160 million people viewed. For more on Wikipedia’s “black out” read the article by the BBC.  Google also was active by claiming to have collected over 7 million signatures on a petition. Through this awareness  and protest, SOPA did not pass, though a watered down version of it did. YouTube Preview Image

Even here in Thailand within recent weeks, issues related to censorship and technology have come to pass. There have been a number of articles within the Bangkok Post related to Twitters announcement that it would allow country-specific censorship of content that violated Thai local laws. One article explained that with the new system, “A tweet from a Thai poster could be blocked in the Kingdom at the request of the government, a company or an individual.” As an organization, Twitter has always claimed  to support freedom of expression, but this decision has shown another side of Twitter. Within the same article, a local Thai shared his views on the decision,

 “Sombat Boonngamanong, a self-described red shirt supporter who uses the name @nuling, said he believed content censorship was appropriate in the case of human rights violations or criminal activity, but not for expressing political views.”

Obviously, in situations where violations of the law or human rights violations are present, censorship may be deemed necessary. But where do we draw the line? I admit that there should indeed be some regulations in place to protect individuals’ copyrighted work. After all, it is their work, their livelihood. But in the digital age, where information is updated almost immediately and able to access with a click, we should not be going back in time. Back to a time when information was limited and controlled by a select few. Who is to say that country specific censorship of content will be fair and equitable? Isn’t the very nature of politics to have an agenda? I believe that this issue is not going away. It will not be slipped quietly under the carpet. With more an more people online, and increased access to technology in developing countries, the regulation of how individuals utilize technology is not going away. So, should freedom with technology be a right?


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Seamless Technology…

As our COETAIL course continues and my awareness and technology skills set expands, I have begun to believe that I am actually integrating technology into the classroom more. That may very well be so, but after much that I have recently read on technology integration, what I am doing is only the tip of the iceberg. Technology integration is all the new buzz; but what is it and how does it best occur? The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) have not only developed technology standards for students, teachers and administrators in K-12 classrooms, but have also shared one definition of technology integration:

“Curriculum integration with the use of technology involves the infusion of technology as a tool to enhance the learning in a content area or multidisciplinary setting… Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions — as accessible as all other classroom tools. The focus in each lesson or unit is the curriculum outcome, not the technology.”

Well said. So where am I according to the well-respected ISTE guidelines on technology integration? Yes I am utilizing more technology into my classroom everyday, but is it “infused”, is it seamless? Of course not. Teaching at a one to one school already incorporates tech into the classroom. It would be simply absurd to continue teaching by way of white board lectures and problems out of the textbook. Instead of overhead transparencies, we all use documents such as Powerpoints, Prezi’s and Keynote presentations projected onto a screen. Further still, most teachers, myself included, have a website that students go to first thing on entering my class to see what is new to do. In class work in my English Skills class including journaling, vocabulary assignments, Daily Oral Language, and essay writing activities are all posted and/or embedded into my Google site from Google Documents. I am beginning to use a Mimio in my Math Skills class. But is this true technology integration, or am I simply doing an old activity in the same ole’ way with more advanced technology, only improving convenience?

According to the above quote from ISTE, students should have the opportunity to select from a variety of technology tools to gather information, understand the information, and then present it in a professional manner. Again, being in a one to one school, students are constantly using their laptops to find information on the web, then using tools on the web to better understand the information, and finally producing incredibly professional final products with programs on their laptops. They are able to do this easily and seamlessly, with the emphasis on the curriculum outcome and not the technology. If anything, it is much easier for our students who have always grown up as “digital natives” to learn new technology tools. They simply play with the tools until they get it, unlike myself. But tech tolerance is another topic altogether and I digress. Even with all of this external seamless tech integration, I think we are missing the point. I don’t believe what I am doing is enough, and this is why.

It is no longer enough to simply utilize new technology within the classroom to make our, and our students lives more convenient. Now that I am using Google documents with my students, I will never go back. My students can write and continuously edit their college essays for example and I can look at what they have done and when they have last made a correction at anytime. I am no longer bogged down my multiple e-mails in my inbox or receiving paper copies and killing trees. I am from Oregon after all and take that kind of thing seriously (the killing trees thing). What is enough then, and how to do we know when we get there? That is the real debate going around these days. I am sure that I do not know the answer and I am fairly confident that there really isn’t an ideal one yet. It is a burgeoning field right now and we are in the midst of it. One article that has really helped me assess my own level of tech integration in the classroom comes from Marc Prensky’s article Shaping Tech for the Classroom on Edutopia’s blog. He has taken a very complex idea and simplified it into four stages of attainment. These are:

  1. Dabbling with technology
  2. Doing old things in old ways
  3. Doing old things in new ways
  4. Doing new things in new ways

Dabbling with technology is self-explanatory, and my classroom has easily surpassed this stage. The difference between doing old things in old ways, and old things in new ways is where I am floundering. Even though my use of my Google sites and Google documents within the classroom is fully integrated, I am still just presenting information in the same old way, or storing information in the same old way. Sure it is easier to access and is quicker, but is it really new? Instead of handwriting a paper, students are putting it on their Google document. It saves time, but it isn’t truly a new way of doing things? The more I reflect on what it is to do old things in new ways, the more I realize that this isn’t necessarily happening in my classroom. It is more difficult to do than you may think. I believe that I am just now beginning to attempt to reach the stage of doing old things in new ways by asking my students to write blogs and engage in their personal learning networks. Projects have become more collaborative in nature with technology, though this could still be tettering on the “old way” side.  If teachers like myself, who are consciously taking the time to commit to an ongoing course on educational technology are still struggling between stage 2 and 3, where are the majority of other teachers? How are we going to get the educators in our current educational system to do new things in new ways?

This will take a paradigm shift, and unfortunately,  large institutions such as school systems are notorious for progressing slowly. I believe that we don’t have time to wait.


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Capturing the Flood

Throughout Course 3, we have focused on visual literacy and how to teach visual literacy to our students utilizing various technologies and activities. Unfortunately, quite a bit of Course 3 was done over the course of some of Thailand’s worst flooding in history. The results of these floods was devastating to the country both socially and economically. Hundreds of people were killed, and thousands of people are displaced. The flood waters have receded in many areas, but there are still many communities currently under water. Most of Bangkok schools were closed on orders from the Thailand Ministry of Education for weeks on end. While we were away from our classrooms, the expectation was that online learning continue. Even though assignments were given, the majority of students were unable to complete them due to unforseen circumstances such as lack of reliable internet connection.

I am a firm believer in the importance of visual literacy in the classroom. This is partly because I am a Learning Support teacher and know how critical it is to support learning using multiple modalities (such as infographics), but also because of my interest in art. Even though I was a Studio Art minor in college, and I have taken various art classes since, I have noticed that I rarely look at the world anymore through the critical eye of an artist. This course has rejuvenated this sense of wonder for me, and has not only recaptured my awe and appreciation to those that create aesthetic pieces, but  has given me practical technologies to utilize with students. It has also pushed by technological boundaries by spurring me to make my first video. Although it is no masterpiece and somewhat embarrassing, it does give one concrete and practical advice on how to make a Sandbag dyke in a similar style to that of a Commoncraft video. Unfortunately, after uploading it to Youtube, I am still waiting for approval. I did even take out the intro music from Led Zepplin’s hit “When the Levee Breaks” because of Copyright law.  As soon as it is accepted to Youtube, I will share it here.

I also played around with the Voicethread program, and made an informal presentation of what it was like volunteering with the Thai Red Cross in a flood affected area. The Voicethread literally walks you through me and my husband’s experience going into a community under water and delivering flood relief bags filled with food.

During the time we had off school due to the floods, I assigned some online learning to my students. One of the projects was a “Flood testimonial” where I asked my students to create a presentation using only 20 slides. Every 5 slides was supposed to answer a specific question. I encouraged them that less is more, and not to use too many words on the slides. I directed them to a couple of websites to get helpful hints on what makes a nice presentation. Unfortunately, the majority of my students did not have access to the internet, or claimed such, and weren’t able to complete the assignments. They now have until Monday, November 28th to complete the project. I had wanted them to have completed the project so that I could have included some of the better ones. They were asked to put them on Slideshare.

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The classroom is flat

Some rights reserved Jillian Nichols

As I have been taking refuge from the floods in Bangkok, I have continued to provide instruction online for my students. We are now beginning our 4th week off from school due to the flooding crisis in Bangkok. The first couple of weeks we were mandated to remain closed after our half term holiday by the Thai Ministry of Education. Last week, while many other international schools finally opened their doors, on Wednesday, November 9th only the teachers went into school to prepare for the students’ arrival the next day. While we were catching up with our departments and planning lessons for our students return, dirty khlong water started creeping up on the only entrance now to our school (the other entrance had long been flooded). Again, the school administration had a difficult decision as to whether or not remain open. The school doors were closed again, but the main item on the agenda that day concerned how to make up lost instructional time, especially in the form of online or distance learning.

The tools are out there. One of my colleagues Paige Prescott, also a fellow COETAILer, had a classroom session using BigMarker that I joined in on. It is a video conferencing site that students can easily access via an invitation/link sent to their e-mail. Everyone is able to see one another, just as if you were Skyping, but there is an added component. The administrator of the conference is also able to teach utilizing almost anything they have access to on their personal computer. Everybody conferencing is able to see what the administrator puts on their computer, whether it be a Google document, a PowerPoint presentation, or a specific website. Basically the options are limitless.

It is becoming increasingly simple to teach online without ever having to step foot into a classroom. If a teacher has their own website that students can access on a regular basis, such as a Wikispace, Google site, or Edmodo, students can access whatever it is you post on them. Google documents and presentations can easily be embedded, as well as instructional videos from Youtube or the Khan Academy. Video conferencing can be supplemented at specific times utilizing BigMarker or with Google’s new Hangout feature on Google Plus.  Assessments  can even be given online through various sites such as Quizlet. I would like to familiarize more with online assessment systems. It begins to make you wonder what the future of teaching will look like.

Thomas Friedman wrote the book The World is Flat, which highlights the growth of globalization expedited by the age of the internet. As educators, are we not seeing the same change about to occur because of the internet? Is this necessarily a good thing? At Ruamrudee International School, I would say almost all of the secondary teachers now use a classroom website of some sort. Because of this fact, it seems like an easy transition to do distance learning in the event of unfortunate circumstance such as the current flood. Of course there are large discrepancies between the quantity and quality of distance learning taking place depending on the teacher, but what I have noticed as far as student outcomes has been surprising. Our students today spend hours a day on their computers posting on Facebook , chatting on Skype with their friends, and playing computer games. It seems like it wouldn’t be a difficult transition to have their schooling take place online as well. Unfortunately, whether my students truly don’t have access to the internet because of location, or many claimed to not have brought their laptop, the results of the distance learning assigned that has actually returned has been approximately less than 5%.

Why is this happening? What is the hang up? Most are familiar with procrastination, and being distracted in times of crisis is understandable, but I am fairly confident that teachers aren’t going to easily be replaced, even though the classroom is now flat.

The photos I have taken I have not yet had time to put on Flickr, but I will. My husband and I volunteered for the Thai Red Cross a couple of weeks ago and saw a province near Don Muang flooded. The pictures that I took explain our experience much more than I can.

Some rights reserved Jillian Nichols

I’m  thinking about making a video or a VoiceThread presentation for my next post on my experience volunteering. More to come on that.


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Hear no evil, see no evil?

I have been doing some serious reflection on how truly important visual literacy is to everyone. I have especially been considering what significance visual literacy plays in the classroom. I think in order to make instruction engaging anymore, any teacher can tell you that the traditional method of lecturing just doesn’t cut it. It is an age where our students spend the majority of their day looking into a screen to be stimulated, and most of their daily input of information comes visually.

Rights reserved Swag Tricks

I have students that are absolutely incredible at making flyers, slides, you name it, beautiful. Where does this come from? The student I am thinking about has yet to take an actual art class, and he definitely doesn’t consider himself an artist, but he is extraordinary. Anything that can be done on a Mac program, he can do. Ruamrudee is hosting the SENIA (Special Education Network in Asia) conference this year, and we needed a logo. Considering the conference is geared towards Special Education, I figured it would make sense to have a competition within our Special Needs program at school to have a student design the logo. This particular student created an absolutely stunning one. What he designed is actually on our school website on the bottom right corner. He should be proud.

And then this got me thinking…as a trained Special Education teacher I am constantly adding supplementary materials to enhance student understanding. It is just what we do. More often than not, students with language disabilities need to have new content material disseminated to them in multiple modalities. Visuals should accompany information given along with the auditory. Usually students with disabilities in one area are unusally skilled in another area. It makes sense that our bodies would compensate. People who are visually impaired tend to have a keener sense of hearing. Students who struggle understanding complicated academic vocabulary, compensate by quickly understanding visual graphs and charts. This aligns with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed a model of intelligence that separates intelligence into specific groups based on modalities. Originally there were 7 various types of intelligences: Logical-mathematical, spatial, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Naturalistic and existential intelligence were added later. Obviously all individuals have strength and weaknesses in different areas, or “intelligences”. Teachers should take into account all of these intelligences when possible AND as frequently as possible.

Graphic by Mark R. Kaser All Rights Reserved

I believe that if teachers begin to start taking into account the significance of visual literacy into the classroom, that is just may level the playing field. We have already seen technology doing that in the classroom. What student really needs to know how to spell anymore? Sure, it is nice, but is it necessary? In fact, emphasizing visual literacy in the classroom will benefit all students. I believe that  any sort of accommodation that a student with special needs gets, usually will benefit the class as a whole anyways. Many accommodations align with best practice teaching techniques, such as checking for student understanding or providing graphic organizers. Why wouldn’t be aim for full understanding from everyone?

Ever hear of the 10 and 2 principle? That on average most adults can only maintain concentration on listening to others for 10 minutes. That most likely is even less for teenagers. The significance of this is that as teachers we should only require students to listen to us for 10 minutes, and once we have reached this limit, we need to change the modality. Ask the students to generate a response, or perform some related task. Because, if the students aren’t listening, then they aren’t learning. There is also research that supports the notion that adding visuals increases retention. According to John Medina in Brain Rules, “If we hear a piece of information, three days later we will remember 10% of it. Add a picture, and you will remember 65%.” So, as teachers it is our responsibility to increase visual literacy into our classroom. Remember, that as long as the target content standard is met in the student’s understanding, it doesn’t much matter what medium the student chooses in which to present it…


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